Windows Archive

The SuperH-3, part 1: introduction

Windows CE supported the Hitachi SuperH-3 and SuperH-4 processors. These were commonly abbreviated SH-3 and SH-4, or just SH3 and SH4, and the architecture series was known as SHx. I’ll cover the SH-3 processor in this series, with some nods to the SH-4 as they arise. But the only binaries I have available for reverse-engineering are SH-3 binaries, so that’s where my focus will be. Another architecture series by Raymond Chen, diving into some deep details about the SHx architecture.

Microsoft confirms users unable to switch out of Windows 10 in S Mode

Some flagship devices like Samsung Galaxy Book2 and Microsoft Surface Go come pre-installed with Windows 10 in S mode (formerly known as Windows 10 S). Windows 10 in S Mode locks installation of apps only from the Microsoft Store and users cannot download or install .exe apps. Fortunately, Microsoft allows users to switch out of Windows 10 in S mode from the Microsoft Store, but users are reporting that this Store feature is broken and they cannot switch out of Windows 10 in S Mode. That’s pretty rough if you bought a Windows 10 S device without being able to run the traditional applications you might need for school or work.

Windows 10 build 18950 leak shows a cloud restore option for a factory reset

If you’ve ever had a Mac that had become completely corrupted, or if you simply deleted the disk partitions, then you’ve probably discovered that Apple has a built-in solution. When you try to boot up the Mac, it will simply connect to the internet, download the version of macOS that came with your PC, and take you through the process of installing it. It seems that Microsoft has an idea in mind now that’s more similar to what Apple does. As discovered by Microsoft leakster WalkingCat, you’ll have the option to ‘cloud download’ Windows 10, or restore from the local image. I used FTP installation on Mandrake Linux ages before this ever became an option for the Mac, so it’s not like this is exactly a very modern or novel feature. Still, better late than never I suppose, and it will make a Windows install a much less cumbersome process if you can’t find your installation medium.

Leaked internal Windows 10 build reveals new Start menu experience

Leaked internal Windows 10 build has revealed a brand new Start menu experience that replaces live tiles with a more traditional grid of apps. This Start menu experience is believed to be the Start menu that Microsoft is working on for Windows Lite, featuring a more simplified app layout. The leaked build comes directly from Microsoft itself, thanks to an issue with the Insider Program rolling out builds that were never greenlit to ship to testers. As a result, an internal build that includes features that are not supposed to be seen by the public has leaked. The new Start menu is very early, and its UI isn’t finished. So don’t judge it by its looks just yet. This iteration of the Start menu looks a lot more basic, simple, and straightforward – exactly what I, personally, look for in a launcher: a grid or list of stuff I can click on.

Microsoft discreetly drops ‘telemetry’ as part of larger ‘security cumulative update’ for Windows 7

Microsoft appears to have once again attempted to sneak telemetry components. The company released security updates for all supported operating systems on the July 2019 Patch Day. However, this month’s cumulative updates, which were supposed to contain only security-related components, contain an unexpected compatibility/telemetry component. The suspicious components were hidden in plain sight. Incidentally, this is the second time Microsoft has attempted to insert telemetry components. However, during the first attempt the Windows OS maker had openly mentioned the inclusion of the telemetry components, whereas this time, the company didn’t offer any indication. This methodology appears to an attempt to garner more accurate data about usage and installation patterns of the Windows operating system as Microsoft will soon phase out Windows 7. People sticking with Windows 7 are a potential gold mine for Microsoft, so from the company’s perspective, it makes perfect sense to try and collect as much data about Windows 7 users as possible. Such data will help them determine what the best approach would be to get these users to upgrade. If such telemetry collection is opt-in, then I see no problem with it. Sneaking it in as part of a security update, however, is downright scummy.

Microsoft is making Windows 10 passwordless

Microsoft is planning to make Windows 10 PCs work without passwords. While the company has been working on removing passwords from Windows 10 and its Microsoft Accounts for a number of months now, the next major update to Windows 10 next year will go one step further. You’ll soon be able to enable a passwordless sign-in for Microsoft accounts on a Windows 10 device. This means PCs will use Windows Hello face authentication, fingerprints, or a PIN code. The password option will simply disappear from the login screen, if you decide to opt in to this new “make your device passwordless” feature. I’m totally on board with this – I love the depth sensor-based Windows Hello on my Dell XPS 13 – but a big problem is that it’s so difficult to get Windows Hello facial recognition on a regular desktop. Only very few cameras actually have the required sensors – not even Microsoft’s own webcams support Windows Hello – making it hard to opt into this passwordless future. Any company that can make an affordable Windows Hello sensor that’s small and easy to attach to a display gets my money.

Evolving Windows 10 servicing and quality: the next steps

The next feature update for Windows 10 (known in the Windows Insider Program as 19H2) will be a scoped set of features for select performance improvements, enterprise features and quality enhancements. To deliver these updates in a less disruptive fashion, we will deliver this feature update in a new way, using servicing technology (like the monthly update process) for customers running the May 2019 Update who choose to update to the new release. In other words, anyone running the May 2019 Update and updating to the new release will have a far faster update experience because the update will install like a monthly update. This service pack-like release is scheduled for September. I do have to say though that I am starting to miss the forest through the trees when it comes to Windows and its updates. I understand why things have to be so complicated – Windows is used in many different environments, and each environment requires unique updating rules – but it hasn’t exactly made things easier to grasp for consumers.

Microsoft explains the lack of Registry backups in Windows 10

Martin Brinkmann at ghacks.net: We noticed back in October 2018 that Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system was not creating Registry backups anymore. The scheduled task to create the backups was still running and the run result indicated that the operation completed successfully, but Registry backups were not created anymore. It turns out that this is a feature, not a bug, as Microsoft has posted a support document explaining the new behaviour and the reasoning behind it. Starting in Windows 10, version 1803, Windows no longer automatically backs up the system registry to the RegBack folder. If you browse to to the \Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder in Windows Explorer, you will still see each registry hive, but each file is 0kb in size. This change is by design, and is intended to help reduce the overall disk footprint size of Windows. To recover a system with a corrupt registry hive, Microsoft recommends that you use a system restore point. This might come as a surprise to some, hence it seems prudent to highlight this change. In the support article, Microsoft lists methods to reenable registry backups.

Windows Terminal preview released on Microsoft Store

The Windows Terminal is the new, powerful, open source terminal application that was announced at Build 2019. Its main features include multiple tabs, Unicode and UTF-8 character support, a GPU accelerated text rendering engine, and custom themes, styles, and configurations. It’s now available in the Microsoft Store, and while I’m not a huge command line user in Windows, it does feel like a night and day upgrade from cmd.exe. By default, it supports both cmd and PowerShell.

Windows 10 build 18917 begins splitting the Shell from the OS

For those who don’t know, Windows Core OS is supposed to be a new version of Windows that can adapt more easily to any kind of screen, thanks in part to a new infrastructure for the Shell, which separates it from the system itself. This means that Microsoft can create different Windows experiences for different form factors such as Lenovo’s foldable ThinkPad, while using the same core components as a base. Yesterday, Microsoft released Windows 10 build 18917 to the Fast Ring, and while it included some welcome improvements, perhaps the most interesting change went unnoticed. Twitter user Albacore has discovered that with this build, the company has started implementing some work towards the separation of the Shell from the rest of Windows. There’s now a Shell Update Agent, which is meant to be able to update the Shell on demand. Windows and a possible new shell are like multiplying by 0.5 – you never get quite to zero. There’s been so many rumours and leaks for so long now, one has to wonder if it will ever actually happen.

Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform app dream is dead and buried

Microsoft had a dream with Windows 8 that involved universal Windows apps that would span across phones, tablets, PCs, and even Xbox consoles. The plan was that app developers could write a single app for all of these devices, and it would magically span across them all. This dream really started to fall apart after Windows Phone failed, but it’s well and truly over now. Microsoft has spent years pushing developers to create special apps for the company’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP), and today, it’s putting the final nail in the UWP coffin. Microsoft is finally allowing game developers to bring full native Win32 games to the Microsoft Store, meaning the many games that developers publish on popular stores like Steam don’t have to be rebuilt for UWP. The concept of UWP was sound, but on Windows it had to compete with Win32, and on mobile, Windows Phone was an abject failure. There just wasn’t any developer uptake.

Why does Windows really use backslash as path separator?

More or less anyone using modern PCs has to wonder: why does Windows use backslash as a path separator when the rest of the world uses forward slash? The clear intermediate answer is “because DOS and OS/2 used backslash”. Both Windows 9x and NT were directly or indirectly derived from DOS and OS/2, and certainly inherited much of the DOS cultural landscape. That, of course, is not much of an answer. The obvious next question is, why did DOS use backslash as a path separator? When DOS 2.0 added support for hierarchical directory structure, it was more than a little influenced by UNIX (or perhaps more specifically XENIX), and using the forward slash as a path separator would have been the logical choice. That’s what everyone can agree on. Beyond that, things get a bit muddled. A fascinating bit of sleuthing, and the author comes to an interesting theory. What’s fascinating to me is that I don’t even consciously realise the MS-DOS is the odd one out here – I just adapt to it without even thinking about it.

Microsoft unveils Windows Subsystem for Linux 2

Today we’re unveiling the newest architecture for the Windows Subsystem for Linux: WSL 2! Changes in this new architecture will allow for: dramatic file system performance increases, and full system call compatibility, meaning you can run more Linux apps in WSL 2 such as Docker. This is a massive new release of WSL, and for the first time for consumer-facing Windows, Microsoft will be shipping a full Linux kernel with its operating system. Beginning with Windows Insiders builds this Summer, we will include an in-house custom-built Linux kernel to underpin the newest version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). This marks the first time that the Linux kernel will be included as a component in Windows. This is an exciting day for all of us on the Linux team at Microsoft and we are thrilled to be able to tell you a little bit about it. All changes will go upstream, and the kernel itself will be updated through Windows Update. Of course, this Linux kernel, which contains patches to optimise it for WSL 2, will be fully GPL compliant, so anyone will be able to build to their own custom kernel using these patches.

Microsoft announces Windows Terminal and WSL 2, coming in June

At its Build 2019 developers conference today, Microsoft announced a slew of offerings for Windows developers, including Windows Terminal, Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) 2, XAML Islands, React Native for Windows, and MSIX Core. Windows Terminal, available in preview now, is a new application for command-line users that promises a user interface with “graphics-processing-unit-accelerated text rendering.” The application features tabs; tear-away windows; shortcuts; and full Unicode support, including East Asian fonts, emojis, ligatures, theming, and extensions. Windows Terminal is meant for users of PowerShell, Cmd, WSL, and other command-line applications. Windows Terminal seems to address quite a few shortcomings of Windows when it comes to its terminal – or lack thereof – and is certainly going to make a lot of developers and administrators quire, quite happy.

Systems with small disks won’t be able to install Windows 10 May 2019 update

Previously, 32-bit Windows had a minimum storage requirement of 16GB, and 64-bit Windows needed 20GB. Both of these were extremely tight, leaving little breathing room for actual software, but technically this was enough space for everything to work. That minimum has now been bumped up: it’s 32GB for both 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows. Part of this growth may be due to a new behavior that Microsoft is introducing with version 1903. To ensure that future updates install without difficulty, 7GB of disk space are permanently reserved for the install process. While this will avoid out-of-disk errors when updating, it represents a substantial reduction in usable space on these low-storage systems. It’s remarkable just how much space a default Windows installation takes up – and it’s even worse just how hard it has become on Windows to even properly find out where all that space is going as your machine starts to rack up the months or even years of use. While other modern operating systems such as Linux or macOS may not be as bad as Windows, they, too are starting to treat disk space like a commodity, and they, too, can be difficult to manage.

Windows 10’s ‘Sets’ feature is gone and not expected to return

In 2017, Microsoft officials provided a preview of two new features coming to Windows 10: Timeline and Sets. Timeline made it into Windows 10 as part of the April 2018 Update, but Sets didn’t. And it’s looking like it never will be included in Windows 10. My sources say Microsoft dropped plans for Sets, a Windows-management feature, which would have allowed users to group app data, websites and other information in tabs, months ago. Although Microsoft did test Sets last year with some of its Windows Insider testers, the feature generally wasn’t well received or understood. For apps like Office to work well with Sets, the Office engineering team was going to have to do a lot of extra work. Too bad, because this really looked like a useful feature to easily group related windows into single objects.